The North Face ThermoBall Jacket
Weight: 15.2 oz. (men's medium)
Insulation: PrimaLoft ThermoBall (13g)
What we like: Down-like looks and warmth in a sleek synthetic package.
What we don't: Heavier than the competition.
See the Men's The North Face ThermoBall See the Women's The North Face ThermoBall
Now in its second generation, The North Face ThermoBall remains an extremely popular insulated jacket. With its puffy synthetic fill and smooth shell, the ThermoBall does a pretty good impression of a lightweight down piece, and recent updates including a new quilting pattern and trimmer fit give it a more modern look. However, the jacket is now notably heavier than much of its competition, making it less appealing for backcountry use. Below we break down the ThermoBall’s warmth, weight and packability, weather protection, durability, fit, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best synthetic jackets and midlayers.
Named after its insulation design, the The North Face ThermoBall uses clusters of synthetic fibers to give the jacket its signature lightweight feel and puffy look. The ball-like polyester fill was developed with PrimaLoft to emulate goose and duck down by trapping heat efficiently and with minimal weight. With the recent update, The North Face modified the design slightly with a new “bottleneck” pattern (the previous quilting was rectangular) that reduces the amount of stitching on the jacket, giving it a modest boost in warmth. While it still falls short of the cozy warmth you get from down—as well as more recent efforts like Patagonia’s Micro Puff—the ThermoBall nevertheless is a quality insulator overall.
Warmth wise, we put the ThermoBall on par with popular lightweight synthetics like the Patagonia Nano Puff, and found it to be slightly warmer than the Arc’teryx Atom LT. This means that it isn’t built for high alpine adventures, but works great as an outer layer during the shoulder seasons where temperatures are often in the mid to lower 40s Fahrenheit. As a midlayer for downhill skiing, we’ve been comfortable in it even as temperatures dip into the single digits.
On our scale, the retooled ThermoBall in a men’s medium weighs 15.2 ounces (it's listed at 15.5), which is around 3 ounces heavier than its predecessor. With this jump, the ThermoBall now outweighs much of its competition. For comparison, Patagonia’s Nano Puff comes in at 11.9 ounces, while Arc’teryx’s Atom LT checks in a little less at 11.1 ounces. You can save even more weight with Patagonia’s Micro Puff (8.3 oz.), but that jacket isn’t very durable and will set you back an additional $50. The ThermoBall also can’t compete with most down options—even the Outdoor Research Transcendent, which uses mid-range 650-fill down and costs the same as the ThermoBall, provides more warmth at 13.7 ounces.
As with its weight, the ThermoBall is packable for a synthetic but won’t be confused for a premium down piece. The jacket compresses easily into its large left-hand pocket, which includes a two-sided zipper for storage. The tall pocket gives the ThermoBall a long rectangular shape when packed, and we found it fairly easy to compress the jacket even further when stuffing it into a daypack or suitcase. If packed size is important to you, we recommend spending up for a down jacket or ultralight synthetic like the Patagonia Micro Puff, but we think most travelers and backpackers won’t have much to complain about with the ThermoBall.
Given the ThermoBall’s utility as a mid and outer layer, we look for moderate weather protection, which it delivers. The shell has a DWR coating that will keep light drizzle and snowfall at bay, but during heavy rain the jacket will start to let water in through the face fabric. The good news is that as with other synthetic jackets, the ThermoBall will continue insulating when wet, unlike down fill that clumps up and is very slow to dry. Wind protection is similarly good with the face fabric repelling gusts, but you’ll want to throw on a rain jacket or hardshell if it truly turns nasty. Overall, the weather protection is a nice match for its intended use: lots of daily wear and the occasional foray into the mountains.
At its release, the ThermoBall was touted as a viable option for high-output use, but it’s since been overtaken by a number of more recent releases in the growing active insulation market. Newer options like The North Face’s own Ventrix jacket are made with stretchy and breathable liners, insulation, and shells that do an impressive job of regulating your temperature during aerobic activities (for more information, see our in-depth Ventrix review). The ThermoBall, on the other hand, is more like a down jacket—its aim is to efficiently trap heat and block light rain and wind. As a result, the smooth interior doesn’t wick away sweat and can become slippery and clammy rather quickly. Depending on your intended use, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but don’t expect the ThermoBall to excel in activities like climbing or backcountry skiing.
The North Face uses a 15-denier (D) shell and lining, which is on the thin end for a jacket of this type. It is a high-quality ripstop polyester with a nice feel, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence when brushing up against branches and rock or even in day-to-day life. If we were to make a change to the jacket (in addition to the fit that we cover below), beefing up the exterior durability would rank highly. The ThermoBall already isn’t intended for minimalists, so adding another ounce or two for the security of a tough shell seems like a worthwhile trade-off to us (note: opting for a "matte" finish jacket will get you a stronger 30D shell, but the classic colors only come with 15D). That being said, the rest of the jacket is well-made and we love the quality of the main zipper in particular, which has large teeth and has operated flawlessly.
Except for a few recent performance pieces like the Ventrix, we’ve found jackets from The North Face to consistently run a little large and boxy. This is true with the ThermoBall, which we ordered in our normal medium size (our tester is 5’9” and 155 pounds) and had plenty room to spare, particularly in the torso. However, it’s worth pointing out that the fit is a little smaller with the second-generation jacket compared to the older version. In particular, the arms are notably trimmer (we had a ton of excess fabric around the upper arms previously).
All told, the fit is best described as relaxed, which may appeal to those that want to wear a thicker baselayer or two underneath the jacket or will use it primarily around town. But for layering and the backcountry—as well as our own preferences in having a more athletic cut—the fit left us missing our favorite synthetics like the Arc’teryx Atom LT, Patagonia Nano-Air, and The North Face’s own Ventrix. On the plus side, there are two waist cinches that adjust the hem evenly, and we’d expect the ThermoBall to fit most body types reasonably well.
Other Versions of The North Face ThermoBall
We tested the standard men’s ThermoBall Jacket, and the lineup includes a number of other options, including a hoody and vest. The men’s ThermoBall Hoodie costs slightly more at $220 and is a bit heavier at 16.4 ounces, but otherwise retains many of the same features of the jacket we tested including 13-gram synthetic insulation, a 15-denier shell, and puffy jacket-like looks. The North Face makes the jacket, hoody, and vest in women’s versions for the same price (weight and colorways vary slightly). And finally, it’s worth noting that the ThermoBall family has grown extensively to include an “eco” jacket made with recycled materials, winter parkas, insulated ski jackets, boots, and more—all of which share the proprietary ThermoBall insulation.
What We Like
- A comfortable outer or midlayer with the right amount of warmth for the shoulder seasons.
- Has the puffy look of a down jacket and does a pretty good impression of down’s lightweight warmth.
- Is made in a ton of different colors and styles, as well as a hoody and vest.
What We Don’t
- The jacket fits big and boxy, although it’s about average for The North Face.
- The recent bump in weight makes the ThermoBall heavier than most of its competitors, which limits its backcountry appeal.
- The 15-denier shell fabric is thin and not very confidence-inspiring for serious outdoor use.
|The North Face ThermoBall||$199||15.5 oz.||PrimaLoft ThermoBall (13g)||15-denier||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Atom LT||$239||11.1 oz.||Coreloft (60g)||20-denier||No|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$199||11.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||20-denier||Yes|
|Patagonia Micro Puff||$249||8.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10-denier||Yes|
|The North Face Ventrix||$199||12.7 oz.||Ventrix (60g)||20-denier||No|
There were a number of well-established synthetic jackets when the ThermoBall hit the market, but its innovative insulation, good styling, and impressive marketing campaign have made it a classic. One of our favorite synthetics at the time of its launch—and still today—is the Arc’teryx Atom LT. This jacket is the cozier option with softer materials, stretch side panels, and a more athletic fit compared with the boxier ThermoBall. The North Face jacket is also heavier at 15.5 ounces vs. the Arc’teryx’s 11.1-ounce weight, although this comes with a slight bump in warmth. Both work well as everyday jackets, but we think the Atom LT’s comfort, fit, and build quality are worth the extra $40.
The ThermoBall’s closest competitor in warmth, price, and popularity around town is the Patagonia Nano Puff. Both jackets have enough insulation to be comfortable down into the low 40s Fahrenheit, and their smooth shells and linings are nice to wear as both mid and outer layers. We do, however, prefer the Patagonia’s regular fit to the large and relaxed cut of the ThermoBall, but that can be a subjective choice. Another personal preference is looks—despite its name, the Nano Puff is lower-profile than the ThermoBall, which looks more like a down jacket. And finally, the Nano Puff is a couple ounces lighter at 11.9 (for more, see our in-depth Nano Puff review). Overall, we prefer the Patagonia design, but it’s worth noting that the hoody version of the ThermoBall will save you $29 (the non-hooded versions are the same price).
Another popular Patagonia jacket to consider is the Micro Puff. Similar to the ThermoBall, the Micro Puff is a down-mimicking synthetic but with a much bigger performance slant. As a more backcountry-ready piece, it’s significantly lighter at 8.3 ounces, packs down much smaller, and is even more delicate with a 10-denier shell. Warmth wise, we found both jackets to perform similarly, although the ThermoBall gets the slight edge. A final decision should come down to intended use: The ThermoBall is the better casual piece with more around-town appeal for $50 cheaper; for backcountry use, the Micro Puff is the clear winner.
A final alternative is The North Face’s own Ventrix Jacket. Similar to the ubiquitous Patagonia Nano-Air, this piece puts breathability and temperature regulation above all-out warmth and weight. We have to say we’ve been really impressed with the Ventrix and would choose it over the ThermoBall in most cases: it’s super comfortable with stretchy and soft materials, fits better with an athletic but not restrictive cut, is lighter-weight at 12.7 ounces, and the breathable design is the real deal. All things considered, the Ventrix is our favorite insulated jacket currently made by The North Face.
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